Congratulations to the energy sector finalists for the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30. This is the seventh installment of the project. Each year we highlight a group of upstarts, judged by our sources and judges, to be among the most promising individuals working across the broad field of anything even tangentially “energy” related.
Wading through our nominees this year it became evident how environmentally and holistically minded the younger generation has become. They came of age in a time where the environmentalist message has been seeded, watered, and taken root. They envision a future with cleaner air and water, fewer carbon emissions.
They’re not counting on President Trump to understand the Precautionary Principle, nor do they need the the 2015 Paris Agreement to tell them its time to invest in more carbon-efficient energy systems — they are going to see to it themselves that they leave a cleaner world than they inherit. The biggest misconception about Millennials, says Matthew Murbach, 26, cofounder of Battery Informatics, is “that we are all addicted to instant gratification. Most of my young friends are willing to work long and hard for the fights they are passionate about.”
Emily Callahan, 28, and Amber Jackson, 28, for example, are seeking to turn the swords-into-plowshares thing into a real business. The marine biologists met at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and have since founded Blue Latitudes, which works with oil companies to maximize the environmental benefits of transforming their hulking offshore oil platforms into artificial reefs. Callahan, who has a masters degree from Scripps, says her favorite quote is by Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Indeed, none of these stars are going to allow any preconceived notions to weigh down their ambition. Take Ian Hamilton, 25, CEO of Atlas Energy Systems, where he’s working to commercialize long-lasting batteries powered by the residual energy of radioactive isotopes recovered from spent nuclear fuel. Might sound scary to anyone old enough to remember Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. “I am not subject to the traditional ways of thinking about nuclear power like that of previous generations,” says Hamilton, who is working with scientists at Argonne National Lab.
Maher Damak, 27, is a cofounder of Infinite Cooling, which has devised technology that uses electrical fields to recapture 80% of the water vapor that would normally escape from the cooling towers attached to power plants. Water from the collected steam would be recycled back into cooling. From Tunisia, Damak has a Phd from MIT. He says the worst advice he ever received was: “Entrepreneurship is too risky, just get a job at a large company.”
Some of our stars will start making an impact nearer term. Like Liam Berryman, 21, a cofounder at Nelumbo, which has devised a more efficient heat exchanger that promises to reduce refrigeration costs 30%. Could save $11 billion in cooling costs per year.
And ready for holiday shopping season, pick up a RIVER mobile power station — a sturdy, water-resistant battery pack with 114,000 mAh/412Wh capacity that holds its charge for 1 year and is rated for 500 cycles. Max 500 w output is strong enough to power a mini-fridge for 10 hours. It was developed by Ecoflow Tech, whose cofounders Hannah Sieber, 26, Lei Wang, 29, Fan Zheng, 28, and Eli Harris, 24, Raised $1 million on Indiegogo.
They weren’t the only ones taking advantage of increasingly democratized access to capital. Roger Nores, 28, is the CEO and founder of StoneWay Capital, which this year has raised $900 million to build four power plants outside of his native Buenos Aires. A couple years ago it became obvious to Nores, a young hedge fund manager, that if Argentina wanted to end its frustrating summer electric outages, it needed more power plants. So he set out to build them. First he negotiated with the government, which agreed to buy whatever power Nores could generate at a fixed price for ten years. With that deal in hand, Nores went to Siemens, the German electric giant, and convinced it not only to get on board with supplying and building four new plants, but also to loan Nores $100 million to get rolling. Then Nores hit Wall Street, and this year has raised $700 million in a debt offering bought by the likes of BlackRock and Fidelity. His plants, set to go online by 2018, will run on natural gas and power 800,000 homes and businesses. “If you’re one of those electricity companies that focuses on [emerging markets], you’re always doing a public good.”
Some financing methods have been less straightforward. At Sealed, cofounder Lauren Salz has figured out a new approach for the tricky challenge of financing residential energy efficiency measures like new insulation or tighter windows. These improvements save money and energy, but it’s hard to pin down how much, so Sealed worked with insurance giant Munich Re on an actuarial approach rigorous enough that now big power utilities like ConEdison and National Grid are underwriting 20-year residential efficiency loans.
In time, Salz and Sealed might want to team up with Tian Li of the University of Maryland research team that has created a process to make “transparent” wood — whereby the dark lignin in the wood is replaced with clear epoxy — thus yielding a new material that is stronger, translucent, and a better insulator.
We had a rich pool of nominees this year that we turned over a trio of expert judges, David Crane, the visionary former CEO of NRG Energy, now at Pegasus private equity, Bryan Sheffield, the founder and CEO of Parsley Energy, and David Freed, an alum from last year’s list (read about him here). In a note after finishing his review of the nominees, Crane wrote perhaps the perfect summation of what a Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee should be:
If there is any common thread in my picks, you will see that I have a bias for those who have sought to put together all the elements of whatever endeavor they are engaged in — technological, financial, commercial — more than being strong in just one. I also have a bias towards those who have actually gotten things over the finish line.
Lastly, I want to highlight Hannah Herbst, 17, who has invented a device to capture energy from ocean waves. Called BEACON (Bringing Electricity Access to Countries through Ocean Energy), she intends to deploy the system in developing countries where it can power water purification and medical equipment. She is open-sourcing the project. In her 30 Under 30 questionnaire, Hannah wrote about the worst advice she’s received so far:
“I first experienced engineering when I was 12 years old at a robotics summer camp. I was the only girl in the program. One of my peers told me that because I was the only girl and among the youngest in the program, I would never become a successful engineer. He told me to quit. I’m very glad I didn’t take his advice.”
And so are we.